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Education

Hartford Mayor Heads Board

By Catherine Gewertz — January 03, 2006 1 min read

Connecticut district gets new governance twist.

Giving life to the old saw that if you want a job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself, the mayor of Hartford, Conn., is now doubling as the chairman of the city’s school board.

His addition of that new role last month was the final piece in a series of changes that have governance as the struggling district of 24,000 students moves back from state management to local control.

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And it could stand as a national first. Experts say they know of no other city in which the mayor also heads the school board.

For the past three years, Hartford’s mayor has appointed three of the seven board members. Now, as called for by a change to the city charter, the panel has expanded to nine members: four elected, and five picked by the mayor.

Mayor Eddie A. Perez chose himself and four others to fill his seats. They were sworn in Dec. 6, and the board unanimously chose the mayor as its new chairman.

For Mr. Perez, it’s just one more step in his long-standing push to improve the schools. He said in a recent interview that he talked with a half-dozen strong candidates to lead the board, but wasn’t confident any of them could “give it 100 percent.”

“I’m willing to provide that leadership, because it’s needed,” he said. “This means that the buck has to stop in my office.”

Mr. Perez said he assumed the chairmanship because the district faces pivotal issues this year, including deciding on a superintendent, moving forward on a big facilities project, shifting to a K-8 configuration for the grades before high school, and managing school finance litigation.

He plans to remain as chairman only until “a firm foundation” is laid, which could be six months to a year, or longer “if needed,” he said.

Douglas McCrory, a Democratic state representative who is also the assistant principal at Hartford’s Simpson-Waverly Elementary School, said he welcomes a change that could help the district schools. But he’s also worried that the mayor’s two hats could give him too much power.

“When you start combining them together, it might be too much influence by one person,” he said.

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